Yet another reminder that Detroit’s days as the Motor City are numbered.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that Toyota in 2021 outsold GM by roughly 114,000 vehicles, toppling GM’s decades-long standing as the No. 1 automaker in America. The Journal blames the global computer-chip shortage, but I don’t buy that. Tesla also faced the global chip-shortage, but it deftly managed the situation and delivered a record number of cars in the fourth quarter.
GM was once a symbol of American might and prosperity, but thanks to the company’s entrenched management, especially its grossly overpaid CEO Mary Barra, I expect GM will become an also-ran in the global automotive market. Elon Musk, who was a pimply-faced adolescent when Barra started her career, is kicking GM’s butt on electric vehicles. R J Scaringe, CEO of EV upstart Rivian, wasn’t even born. When I think of GM and electric vehicles, exploding batteries come to mind. As for GM’s once much ballyhooed autonomous driving unit, the former GM president who headed it inexplicably departed just before Christmas.
GM talks a good game about its commitment to electric vehicles, but the company’s survival in the near-term depends on its ability to sell its highly profitable gas-guzzling and emissions-spewing trucks.
I swore off GM in 1980 when I bought its Chevy Citation, which the company hailed as “The First Chevy of the 80s.” The subcompact, Chevrolet’s first front-wheel drive, was a death trap: The brakes would lock in the rain, causing the car to go into a tailspin. The National Highway Safety Administration sued GM to force a recall for the problem, but the company’s lawyers prevailed. Till this day, whenever it rains, I still have considerable trepidation applying the brakes. Trading in my Citation will forever rank among the happiest days of my life.
Safe brakes aren’t GM’s thing. In 2018, the company settled a class action lawsuit for defective brakes. In 2020, the company faced another brake failure lawsuit. Let’s not forget GM’s defective ignition switches, which resulted in 124 deaths and more than 270 injuries. GM’s management knew about the defect but remained silent. And, of course, there’s the Chevy Shake problem. GM’s history of knowingly making POS and dangerous vehicles has remained consistent since Ralph Nader published “Unsafe At Any Speed” in 1965.
I opposed the company’s government bailout in 2008. It’s a wonder to me why anyone would buy a GM car or truck, except for Hertz, another pathetic U.S company. In Hertz’s defense, the company can buy them on the cheap, which is which Hertz lots are stocked with GM brands that I thought were discontinued long ago, many in hideous colors.
GM’s handling of its Citation debacle eliminated my “Buy American” loyalty. GM’s management made clear that American ownership didn’t mean a greater sense of responsibility for the safety of Americans. I bought my first Toyota in 1986 when I moved to Detroit, when there was still a stigma driving a foreign car in America. I’ve been cheering for the Japenses automaker’s success ever since.
My first Toyota was a Celica, an awesome 5-speed sports car that I still pine for. After driving it for a couple of years and putting on more than 50,000 miles, I traded my gray Celica in for a white one. However, I noticed that the FM reception on my new car didn’t pull in a Windsor radio station as well as my previous Celica.
When I complained, Toyota fessed up and admitted they had downgraded the radio antenna embedded in the hatchback window. A district manager told me that I was the only person in America who detected the change. The company agreed to replace the window with an antenna from a higher-end Supra hatchback window, a costly and work-intensive repair. I’ve been a fan of Toyota ever since, although after a decade of driving a couple of Toyota 4-Runner SUVs I switched to Acura and then Subaru.
There is no longer a stigma driving a foreign manufactured vehicle, even in Detroit. The Detroit Free Press this week crowned Ford’s Maverick its “Truck of the Year,” and gave runner up status to Rivian’s electric R1T and the Hyundai Santa Cruz. Missing from the Freep’s gushing prose for the Maverick was one significant detail: The truck is manufactured in Mexico. By comparison, Rivian’s truck is manufactured in Illinois and the Santa Cruz is manufactured in Alabama.
So much for promoting “Buy American.”
The Free Press is continuously slobbering wet kisses on Ford CEO Jim Farley, particularly for driving up the value of Ford’s shares, which were the auto industry’s top growth stock in 2021. The Freep’s incessant cheerleading will make it easier for Ford’s inevitable headquarters relocation to Tennessee or another state with more cachet than Michigan. That’s the reason Rivian relocated from the Detroit-area to Southern California.
Ford’s future is in electric vehicles. The company in October announced massive $11 billion EV investments in Tennessee and Kentucky, staking out those states for its future. Ford not only didn’t even consult with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for a competing bid, but played her for a fool. Ford last year announced plans to outsource more white-collar jobs to India, and if it wasn’t for President Trump, the company would have already moved more manufacturing jobs to Mexico.
The Freep’s cheerleading for Farley and his success driving up the value of Ford’s shares is conditioning readers for Ford’s inevitable headquarters relocation. Hightailing it out of Detroit would give Ford’s stock a giant pop. Being based in Nashville or Austin would allow to Ford to shed its image as your father’s automaker.
The Detroit Free Press would be hard pressed to criticize Ford for the relocation. The newspaper is designed and edited in Kentucky, along with other Gannett-owned sister publications. The Freep hasn’t yet figured out that as Michiganders increasingly move out of state, that will further reduce the size of their already badly dwindled readership. Historically bad management is something GM and Gannett have in common.